Like any other high school basketball player, Owen Caudle had been looking forward to taking the court late last spring, after the pandemic kept school gymnasiums empty over the winter.
Then the Sherwood standout broke his fibula in a June 1 game against Glencoe.
After spending the summer on the sidelines, Caudle has navigated a long but fruitful road back to playing a game not even he realized how much he loved.
"It really brought me back to the love of the game," said Caudle, now a senior. "I was playing so much that it kind of started feeling like a job to me. But now I really appreciate every moment."
And his head coach, Rahim Tufts, has seen that rejuvenation as well, specifically citing Caudle's demeanor on and off the court.
"It's just his laser focus," Tufts said. "When he comes in the gym, he's ready to go. He doesn't take a single day off."
Last year's Bowmen had 10 seniors and finished with a 15-2 overall record, going undefeated in and winning the Pacific Conference during the short season. This year's team, however, is smaller and a little less experienced, and as a result, it has struggled to an 9-9 overall record.
But Sherwood has won four of its last five games, and with its win over Newberg Jan. 28, it sits atop the Pacific Conference standings midway through the league slate.
Caudle is a big reason for that, averaging 20 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game.
Tufts said he's been impressed with the way Caudle has battled his way back into the lineup.
"You couldn't help but feel for the kid and his family, because he lost his opportunity to play the game he loves, but I knew he'd come back hungry and determined to prove himself," the coach said. "It's been fun seeing him having success."
Caudle said he spent about two months in a boot after the injury, then he did physical therapy for a month afterwards. He missed all of the summer basketball activity, and that, he said was tough.
"It was very difficult," he said. "Watching all of my friends go play club ball, traveling across the country, it was tough."
It wasn't until the end of the summer that Caudle was able to put full pressure on the ankle, and a month-and-a-half beyond that to where he felt it was close to full strength.
Throughout his recovery, Caudle worked on his ball-handling and shooting form, and as October approached, he was again able to get on the court. He was excited to do so, but at the same time, he was understandably anxious with the ball in close quarters.
"I wouldn't say nervous, but I was definitely hesitant," Caudle said. "Going to the hoop, especially going into contact was different, but I got over it."
Caudle said now that the injury is behind him, he's been focusing on the team and season.
The senior feels the Bowmen are starting to round into form and feels that much of their recent resurgence has been a result of a loss to Century Jan. 21. He said that since the defeat, they've really focused on their defense, which has been apparent in wins over Forest Grove and Newberg, in which they've allowed an average of 34 points against.
He added that now the Bowmen are playing with a bit of a chip on their shoulders, something he said will help them going forward.
"We've been so good in league over the years, I think it really gave us something we need," Caudle said. "It's definitely helped, and I think everyone's really coming together now."
Despite still being without another key contributor, Bjorn Bergstrom, who is still recovering from a football injury, Tufts thinks his team is beginning to hit its stride — right when it matters most.
"It's a strange year for everyone," Tufts said. "So, it's taken a long time, but now we have an opportunity to really grow together and get everyone back. We're still not playing our best basketball, but I don't want to be just yet."
Tufts is talking about the future, and while Caudle is excited about what could be for the team going forward, he more than anyone has learned to appreciate the here and now.
"I feel like this is a brotherhood, and it's pretty special right now," he said. "Everyone is super-dialed-in with one another and gets happy for one another and lifts each other up. It's really fun to be a part of."
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